We compared services and prices so you don't have to—some of them are even free!

By Emily VanSchmus
January 14, 2019
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With so many new streaming services available, millions of people are breaking up with their cable subscriptions. According to Fortune, the average cable-subscribing household pays $107 per month for access to cable television—that’s $1,284 a year. The tech forecaster eMarketer predicted last year that 50 million people will drop their cable or satellite TV subscriptions by 2021.

There are dozens of streaming services with much cheaper price tags—even with Netflix's most recent price increase, it's still a much cheaper option than a fancy cable package. But with so many streaming options on the market, your monthly bill can add up quickly. We researched some of the most popular services to find out which streaming platforms are worth your money.

Image courtesy of Hulu

Your ideal combination will depend on what’s most important to you: Sports fans will likely be unwilling to give up live streaming of the year’s biggest games, but you can combine a sports-specific package (like ESPN+) with a movie and television-specific service (think Netflix or Hulu) and still pay about half of a monthly cable bill. Subscribers can also save money by agreeing to watch ads during their programming.

The secret to ditching cable and combining streaming services is to decide what programming is most important to you and subscribe to that platform. If you have budget leftover, fill in with a less expensive service or make compromises on things like advertisements for your second-tier service.

Most Expensive Services

These services most closely replicate the traditional cable subscription you’re used to, and while they’re on the more expensive end of the spectrum, they’re all still cheaper than the average cable bill. These services are good for folks who like to watch TV in real time.

Image courtesy of DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now

Price per month: $40 - 75

DirecTV Now is great for anyone who enjoys traditional cable services, but only wants to pay for what they’ll actually watch. DirectTV Now has five services, ranging from $40 for 65 channels all the way to $75 for more than 125 channels. The “Live a Little” package (AKA the cheapest one) offers channels like ABC, NBC, and ESPN so you can keep up with your favorite shows and sports, without paying for all the extra junk you don’t need. To add more specific channels like Bravo, C-SPAN, and Oxygen, upgrade to the more expensive “Gotta Have It” package. Check out the DirecTV website for a full breakdown of packages and channels available. This service has the most live TV options, but you can easily end up paying more for the service than for regular cable.

Hulu + Live TV

Price per month: $39.99

Hulu + Live TV is the real-time streaming addition to a basic Hulu package (more on that later). It’s great for anyone who wants their TV in real time; subscribers can watch live sports, news and reality shows the same way you would with a cable package. With the basic Hulu package, viewers have to wait until the next day to catch up on shows like The Bachelor, and news and sports aren’t covered at all.  With Hulu Live, you won’t have to wait until the following day to find out who got a rose or watch your favorite player score the game-winning touchdown in real time. Users also have the option to save and record up to 50 hours of content, much like a DVR service. View the live channels offered in your area on the Hulu website.

Sling TV

Price per month: $25 - 40

Similar to the DirecTV streaming options, Sling users can choose between two packages based on the channels important to them. Sling Orange and Sling Blue are both $25 a month, with $5 and $10 add-on services for paid channels like Showtime. Check Sling's website for the full breakdown of channels. You can stream Sling through apps for smart TVs, tablets, and phones, or watch on a desktop with the Google Chrome player.

Less Expensive Services

These services cost less than the platforms that resemble traditional cable, but many of them have significantly fewer channels and don’t offer live viewing options. The benefit to choosing a cheaper streaming service is that you can pick and choose platforms to stack while still saving money.

Hulu

Price per month: $3 - $12

If you liked the sound of the Hulu Live plan but weren’t wild about the large price tag, the basic Hulu service is for you. Subscribe to Hulu’s basic package and watch a large selection of movies and older TV shows, as well as shows currently on the air. Keep up with current shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Saturday Night Live, which are available to stream the day after airing on TV. As long as you don’t mind waiting a day to catch your favorite shows, this is one of our favorite alternatives to cable. Hulu is $8 per month with ads, $12 per month without ads, and available to add on to other paid subscriptions like Spotify Premium for an extra $3 a month.

ESPN+

Price per month: $4.99

If live sports are the only thing keeping you tied to your cable subscription, ESPN has you covered. With a subscription to ESPN+, you can keep up with live games from MLB, MLS, and NHL and watch exclusive shows, documentaries, and interviews with players. And at just $4.99, you can totally justify adding this to a service like Netflix or Hulu. Not all games and sports are streamed on ESPN+ and you do have to pay more for post-season coverage, so check the details on their website before committing.

Disney+

Price per month: Less than $8

Late last year, Disney announced they would be pulling most of their movies from Netflix by the end of 2019 and launching their own streaming service called Disney+. The platform doesn’t go live until late 2019 (and they still haven’t released an official price tag), but Disney’s chairman-CEO reported the cost will be less than Netflix’s $8-$14 subscription fee—which was before Netflix's most recent price increase. While the service isn’t live yet, these are all the shows and movies reportedly coming to Disney+.

Amazon Prime Video

Price per month: $9 (or free with Amazon Prime subscription)

If you have Amazon Prime, you already have access to this service at no additional cost. Amazon Prime Video has tons of original shows as well as access to some of your favorite shows and movies (including to exclusive series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Downton Abbey.  If you aren’t a Prime member, the service is $9 a month—but if you’re committing to the monthly cost, we recommend signing up for Amazon Prime and taking advantage of the full account. It works out to be about $10 a month, so you’re only paying $1 more for the rest of the services if you subscribe for a year.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Netflix

Price per month: $9-16

Netflix is perhaps the most popular streaming service on the market today. Even after today's price increase announcement—$8 monthly packages increased to $9 and premium packages increased from $14 to $16—the streaming service is still pretty affordable for the wide selection of movies and shows available. Catch old favorites like Friends and Gilmore Girls on the platform, as well as Netflix originals like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Bird Box, which made headlines this month. Plus, fans of traditional cable networks like HGTV can find a large selection of home improvement and decorating shows on Netflix. This platform is great for households with a large range of interests; Subscribers can add up to four individual users per account and each user can customize their own queue and viewing preferences.

HBO Now

Price per month: $15

With so many people cutting the cord to cable, individual channels are starting to offer their own services so you can subscribe to just one channel for a fraction of what you were paying for cable. With HBO Now, you can keep up with all your favorite HBO shows without paying for other channels (which also means your viewing options are limited to HBO-only programming). HBO is also available as part of platforms like DirecTV and Amazon’s streaming service so check your existing subscriptions to make sure you’re not paying twice for access to HBO.

Free Services

It doesn’t get much better than free! You don’t need to connect a credit card to stream movies and shows from these services and while they definitely have less selection than the paid services, you won’t be out any money by trying them out.

Crackle

Price per month: Free

Crackle is a free streaming service from Sony that doesn’t require users to create an account. The streaming service does have ads, but viewers won’t pay to watch their selection of TV shows and movies. The only catch to using this service in lieu of something like Netflix is that you can’t download anything for offline viewing like you can with most of the paid streaming services.

Image courtesy of IMDb

Amazon’s IMDb

Price per month: Free

Last week Amazon’s IMDb announced they’re launching a new streaming service called Freedive—and it’s totally free! The ad-based subscription service will feature shows, movies, and exclusive original content (like trailers, original series, and interviews from actors) from IMDb.

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